Uganda The Pearl Of Africa

Mar 13 2024

Culture Name   




Lake Kyoga serves as a rough boundary between Bantu speakers in the south       and Nilotic and Central Sudanic language speakers in the north. Despite       the division between north and south in political affairs, this linguistic       boundary actually runs roughly from northwest to southeast, near the       course of the Nile. However, many Ugandans live among people who speak       different languages, especially in rural areas. Some sources describe       regional variation in terms of physical characteristics, clothing, bodily       adornment, and mannerisms, but others claim that those differences are       disappearing.

Location and Geography.   

Bantu speakers probably entered southern Uganda by the end of the first       millennium. They had developed centralized kingdoms by the fifteenth or       sixteenth century, and after independence from British rule in 1962, Bantu       speakers constituted roughly two-thirds of the population. They are       classified as either Eastern Lacustrine or Western Lacustrine Bantu. The       Eastern Lacustrine Bantu speakers include the Baganda people whose       language is Luganda, the Basoga, and many smaller societies in Uganda,       Tanzania, and Kenya. The Western Lacustrine Bantu speakers include the       Banyoro, the Bastoro, the Banyankole, and several smaller populations in       Uganda.             Nilotic language speakers probably entered the area from the north       beginning about                 C.E.               1000. Thought to be the first cattle-herding people in the area, they       also relied on crop cultivation. The largest Nilotic populations in Uganda       are the Iteso and Karamojong ethnic groups, who speak Eastern Nilotic       languages, and the Acholi, Langi, and Alur, who speak Western Nilotic       languages. Central Sudanic languages, which arrived in Uganda from the       north over a period of centuries, are spoken by the Lugbara, the Madi, and       a few small groups in the northwestern part of the country.


The population was about twenty-three million in mid-1999. The Eastern       Lacustrine Bantu include the Baganda, the Basoga, and the Bagisu. The       Baganda, the largest ethnic group, account for about 17 percent of the       population, or approximately 3.9 million people. The second largest ethnic       group, the Basoga, make up about 8 percent of the population, or 1.8       million people, while the Bagisu constitute roughly 5 percent of the       population, or just over a million people. The Western Lacustrine       Bantu—the Banyoro, Batoro, and Banyankole people—probably       constitute around 3 percent of the population, or 700,000 people each.             The Eastern Nilotic language groups include the Karamojong cluster, the       Iteso and the Kakwa. The Karamojong account for around 12 percent of the       population (2.8 million), the Iteso amount to about 8 percent (1.8       million), and the Kakwa constitute 1 percent (about 230,000). The Western       Nilotic language groups include the Langi and Acholi as well as the Alur.       Together they account for roughly 15 percent of the population, or about       3.4 million people, with the Langi contributing 6 percent (1.4 million),       the Acholi 4 percent (900,000), and the Alur probably about 2 percent       (460,000).             Central Sudanic languages are spoken by about 6 percent of the population,       mostly in the northwest. The Lugbara (roughly 3.8 percent of the total, or       870,000) and the Madi (roughly 1.2 per cent, or 275,000) are the largest       of these groups, representing the southeastern corner of a belt of Central       Sudanic language speakers stretching from Chad to Sudan.             About 10,000 Ugandans of Sudanese descent are classified as Nubians. They       are descendants of Sudanese military recruits who came in the late       nineteenth century as part of the colonial army. Rwandans, who constituted       almost 6 percent of the                        Uganda                     population (more than one million) in the late 1950s, included Hutu and       Tutsi groups. The government attempted to limit Rwandan influence by       restricting those who lacked Ugandan citizenship to refugee camps and       expelling some to Tanzania. In the late 1980s, more than 120,000 Rwandans       were recognized as refugees. Asians, who in the 1969 census amounted to       some seventy thousand people, mainly of Indian and Pakistani descent, were       officially considered foreigners despite the fact that more than half were       born in Uganda. After independence and especially when the Obote       government threatened to nationalize many industries in 1969, Asians       exported much of their wealth and were accused of graft and tax evasion.       President Idi Amin deported about seventy thousand Asians in 1972, and       only a few returned in the 1980s to claim their expropriated land,       buildings, factories, and estates. In the 1990s, there were about ten       thousand Asians in the country.

Linguistic Affiliation.   

Introduced by the British in the late nineteenth century, English was the       language of colonial administration. After independence, it became the       official language, used in government, commerce, and education. Official       publications and most major newspapers appear in English, which often is       spoken on radio and television. Most residents speak at least one African       language. Swahili and Arabic also are widely spoken.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation.                  After independence in 1962, ending a period of colonization that began in       1885, there was little indication that the country was headed for social       and political upheaval. Instead, Uganda appeared to be a model of       stability and progress. It had no white settler class attempting to       monopolize the cash crop economy, and there was no legacy of conflict. It       was the African producers who grew the cotton and coffee that brought a       higher standard of living, financed education, and led to high       expectations for the future.             Independence arrived without a national struggle against the British, who       devised a timetable for withdrawal before local groups had organized a       nationalist movement. This near absence of nationalism among the       country’s ethnic groups led to a series of political compromises.

 National Identity.   

Ethnic and religious divisions as well as historical emnities and       rivalries contributed to the country’s disintegration in the 1970s.       There was a wide gulf between Nilotic speakers in the north and Bantu       speakers in the south and an economic division between pastoralists in the       drier rangelands of the west and north, and agriculturists, in the       better-watered highland and lakeside regions. There was also a historical       division between the centralized and sometimes despotic rule of the       ancient African kingdoms and the kinship-based politics elsewhere. The       kingdoms were often at odds in regard to the control of land. During the       colonial period, the south had railways, cash crops, a system of Christian       mission education, and the seat of government, seemingly at the expense of       other regions. There also were religious groups that had lost ground to       rivals in the past, for example, the domination of Muslims at the end of       the nineteenth century by Christians allied to British colonialism. All       these divisions precluded the formation of a national culture.

Ethnic Relations.     

After independence, there were conflicting local nationalisms. The       Buganda’s large population, extensive territory in the favored       south, and self-proclaimed superiority created a backlash among other       Ugandan peoples. Nubians shared little sense of identification with other       groups. The closely related peoples of nearby Zaire and the Sudan soon       became embroiled in civil wars in the 1960s and 1970s, drawing in       ethnically related Ugandans. Today relations are relatively harmonious.       However, suspicion remains with the president believing to favor certain       groups from the west of the country over others.

Food and Economy     

Food in Daily Life.                  Most people, except a few who live in urban centers, produce their own       food. Most people eat two meals a day: lunch and supper. Breakfast is       often a cup of tea or porridge. Meals are prepared by women and girls; men       and boys age twelve and above do not sit in the kitchen, which is separate       from the main house. Cooking usually is done on an open wood fire. Popular       dishes include                 matoke               (a staple made from bananas), millet bread, cassava (tapioca or manioc),       sweet potatoes, chicken and beef stews, and freshwater fish. Other foods       include white potatoes, yams, corn, cabbage, pumpkin, tomatoes, millet,       peas, sorghum, beans, groundnuts (peanuts), goat meat, and milk. Oranges,       papayas, lemons, and pineapples also are grown and consumed. The national       drink is                 waragi              , a banana gin. Restaurants in large population centers, such as Kampala       (the capital), serve local foods.

  Basic Economy.

Most food is produced domestically. Uganda exports various foodstuffs,       including fish and fish products, corn, coffee, and tea. The environment       provides good grazing land for cattle, sheep, and goats. Agriculture is       the most important sector of the economy, employing over 80 percent of the       workforce. Much production is organized by farmers’ cooperatives.       Smallholder farmers predominated in the 1960s and 1970s but declined as a       result of civil conflict. In the 1980s, the government provided aid to       farmers, and by the middle of the decade nearly a hundred ranches had been       restocked with cattle.             Lakes, rivers and swamps cover about 20 percent of the land surface, and       fishing is an important rural industry. The basic currency is the       shilling.                   Land Tenure and Property.                  At independence, the country was a patchwork of district administrations       subdivided into counties and consolidated into                        Grand Mosque of Kampala. Roughly 15 percent of Ugandans are Muslims                     provinces. As a result of a treaty with the British in 1900, Uganda       retained its monarchy together with a modified version of its government       and a distinctive form of quasi-freehold land tenure. Land was divided       between the protectorate government and the kabaka (king), chiefs, and       other tribal notables. This                 mailo               land quickly became an important element in the colonial farming economy.             Uganda has a long history of diverse laws and social systems governing       land tenure. Since the promulgation of the Land Reform decree of 1975,       only two systems of land tenure exist (leasehold and customary tenure),       but in practice a complex mixture of systems (including customary,       leasehold, and freehold) continue to exist. The government attempted to       simplify and unify the land tenure system. A major development in that       process has been the inclusion of land tenure in the constitution of 1995.       However, issues such as women’s right to own land require further       consideration.

Commercial Activities.

The major goods and services produced for sale are foodstuffs and cash       crops for exportation, with coffee as the major export crop. Uganda       escaped widespread famine in the late 1970s and 1980s because many people,       including urban residents, resorted to subsistence cultivation. Both       commercial and subsistence farming operated         in the monetary and nonmonetary sectors, presenting the government with       problems of organization and taxation. By the late 1980s, government       reports estimated that about 44 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)       originated outside the monetary economy. Most nonmonetary activity was       agricultural.

Major Industries.   

When the present government seized power in 1986, industrial production       was negligible, consisting mostly of the processing of crops and the       production of textiles, wood and paper products, cement, and chemicals.       Industry was a small part of GDP in the late 1980s, operating at       approximately one-third of the level of the early 1970s. Under Museveni,       there has been some industrial rejuvenation, although this has amounted to       not much more than the repair of damage done during the civil war to the       industrial infrastructure. The sugar industry was rehabilitated through       joint ventures involving the private sector and the government. By the       1990s there was a refining capacity of at least 140,000 tons of sugar       annually. Other rehabilitated industries include beer brewing, tobacco,       cotton, and cement. About 4 percent of adults worked in industry by the       1990s. During the 1990s, industrial growth was 13.2 percent.

Trade.                  In 1998, the country exported products worth $575 million. The main       export commodities were coffee (54 percent of the total value), gold, fish       and fish products, cotton, tea, and corn. The countries receiving most of       these products were Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Italy.       The main imports include chemicals, basic manufactured goods, machinery,       and transport equipment.

Division of Labor.                  In the mid-1990s the labor force was estimated to be about 8.5 million,       with more than 85 percent working in agriculture, 4 percent in industry,       and 10 percent in the services sector. Jobs are allocated according to       ability and preference.

Social Stratification 

Classes and Castes.                  Although there are no castes, there is a relatively high degree of social       inequality. In the mid-1990s, 55 percent of the population lived below the       poverty line. The top 10 percent owned about one-third of the available       wealth, while the bottom 10 percent owned 3 percent. Wealth distribution       is governed by class position. The richest people live mostly in the       capital, Kampala.                   Symbols of Social Stratification.                  Social stratification is governed primarily by level of education and       status derived primarily from employment. Among the elites, English is the       language of communication, and these people dress in a modern Western       fashion. Others tend to wear traditional dress.

Political Life   

Government.                  Under the constitution of 1995, legislative power is in the hands of a       unicameral parliament (the National Resistance Council) with 276 members       (214 elected directly and 62 appointed). Executive powers are held by the       president, who is directly elected for a five-year term. On coming to       power in 1986, the government introduced “no-party”       democracy known as the “movement system” with a national       network extending from the capital to the rural areas. Only one political       organization, formerly the National Resistance Movement (or NRM) and now       known as the “Movement,” is recognized; it is the party of       President Museveni. Among the parties that exist but are not allowed to       sponsor candidates, the most important are the Ugandan People’s       Congress (UPC), the Democratic Party (DP), and the Conservative Party       (CP).

Leadership and Political Officials.   

It is alleged that one of the main criteria for advancement in the       current government is whether an individual fought in President       Museveni’s guerrilla army, which was instrumental in bringing the       regime to power in 1986. Those people are said to have achieved their       positions through a combination of hard work, influence peddling, and       corruption.

Social Problems and Control.

After the victory of the National Resistance Army (NRA) in 1986, the NRA       assumed responsibility for internal security. The police force was       reorganized and, together with other internal security organs, began to       enforce law and order in all districts except those experiencing rebel       activity. There are two continuing civil wars against the       “Lord’s Resistance Army” and against guerrillas based       in the Sudan. In 1995, the government established a legal system based on       English common law and customary law. There is a court of appeal and a       high court, both with judges appointed by the president. The most common       crimes are theft and, in some parts of the country, banditry.

Military Activity. 

Uganda has an army, a navy, and an air force. The NRA has about seventy       thousand troops. Recruitment is voluntary; there is no fixed term of       service, and both men and women serve. In 1999, Ugandan military forces       supported the rebel forces in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of       Congo.                       Women preparing food in Kampala. All meals are prepared by women in             Uganda; boys over age twelve are banned from the kitchen.

Social Welfare and Change Programs   

In 1987, the government launched a four-year Rehabilitation and       Development Plan to restore the nation’s productive capacity,       especially in industry and agriculture, and rehabilitate the social and       economic infrastructure. The plan targeted industrial and agricultural       production, transportation, and electricity and water services,       envisioning an annual 5 percent growth rate. Transportation would receive       the major share of funding, followed by agriculture, industry and tourism,       social infrastructure, and mining and energy. Although the international       financial community provided debt rescheduling and new loans, the level of       economic recovery was modest. Improved security and private sector       development contributed to economic growth and the rehabilitation of the       social infrastructure in the 1990s, but external shocks, an overvalued       currency, and high government spending limited economic progress.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations 

Political conflict and the near disintegration of the state under Milton       Obote and Idi Amin in the 1970s and early 1980s, led to the incorporation       of autonomous self-help organizations and nongovernmental organizations       (NGOs). Foreign and indigenous NGOs concerned with developmental, social,       and political goals have flooded Uganda since the mid-1980s. In general,       NGOs have been effective in addressing the needs of service provision and       alleviating poverty. For groups of traditionally disadvantaged people such       as physically disabled persons and women, NGOs have provided guaranteed       political representation at every level of the society.

Gender Roles and Statuses   

Division of Labor by Gender.                  Traditionally, women’s roles were subordinate to those of men       despite the substantial economic and social responsibilities of women in       traditional Ugandan societies. Women were taught to accede to the wishes       of their fathers, brothers, husbands, and other men and to demonstrate       their subordination to men in public life. Into the 1990s, women in rural       areas of Buganda were expected to kneel when speaking to a man. However,       women had the primary responsibility for child care and subsistence       agriculture while contributing to cash crop agriculture. Many Ugandans       recognized women as important religious leaders who sometimes had led       revolts that                        The people of Kalunga village celebrate the victory of Kintu Musoke             in the 1994 nonpartisan general election in Uganda.                     overthrew the political order dominated by men. In some areas, women       could own land, influence crucial political decisions made by men, and       cultivate cash crops.

The Relative Status of Women and Men.

In the 1970s and 1980s, political violence had a heavy toll on women.       Economic hardship was felt in the home, where women and children lacked       the economic opportunities available to most men. Women’s work       became more time-consuming, and the erosion of public services and       infrastructure reduced access to schools, hospitals, and markets. However,       some Ugandan women believed that the war years strengthened their position       in society, and the Museveni government has pledged to eliminate       discrimination against women. During the civil war, women were active in       the NRA. The government decreed that one women would represent each       district on the National Resistance Council, and the government owned       Uganda Commercial Bank established a rural credit plan to make farm loans       available to women.

 Marriage, Family, and Kinship 

Marriage.                  Family prosperity in rural areas involves the acquisition of wives, which       is accomplished through the exchange of bridewealth. Since the 1950s a       ceiling on bridewealth has been set at five cows and a similar number of       goats. The payment of bridewealth is connected to the fact that men       “rule” women. Polygynous marriages have reinforced some       aspects of male dominance but also have given women an arena for       cooperating to oppose male dominance. A man may grant his senior wife       “male” status, allowing her to behave as an equal toward men       and as a superior toward his other wives. However, polygynous marriages       have left some wives without legal rights to inheritance after divorce or       widowhood.

 Domestic Unit.                  The extended family is augmented by a kin group. Men have authority in       the family; household tasks are divided among women and older girls. Women       are economically dependent on the male next of kin (husband, father, or       brother). Dependence on men deprives women of influence in family and       community matters, and ties them to male relationships for sustenance and       the survival of their children.

  Inheritance.                  Land reform is a continuing aspect of constitutional debate. Suggestions       for a new land policy were part of the draft constitution submitted to the       president of the Constitutional Commission in late 1992, though little       consideration had been given to the issue of women’s right to own       and                        A woman winnowing grain in the Virunga National Park. More than 80             percent of the workforce is employed in agriculture.                     inherit land. Although women make a significant contribution in       agriculture, their tenure rights are fragile. The determination and       protection of property rights have become important issues as a result of       civil war and the impact of AIDS. However, the state’s legal stand       on inheritance recognizes the devolution of property through statutory as       well as customary law.             According to the law, a wife equally with a husband is entitled to 15       percent of the spouse’s estate after death. The practice, though,       is that in the majority of cases a man inherits all of his wife’s       property, while culture dictates that a woman does not inherit from her       husband at all. In other words, regarding inheritance, where there is       conflict between cultural unwritten law and the written modern law, the       cultural laws tend to take precedence.

Kin Groups.                  For many people, clan, lineage, and marriage provide the framework of       daily life and access to the most significant resources. Farming is       largely a family enterprise, and land and labor are available primarily       through kin.


Infant Care.                  Virtually all infant care is undertaken by women and older girls at home.

Child Rearing and Education.                  Mothers bore an average of over seven children in the late 1990s, and the       use of family planning is low. The death of children is commonplace, with       an estimated ninety deaths per one thousand live births. Boys are more       likely to be educated to the primary and secondary levels than are girls.       Among the 62 percent of the population that is literate, nearly       three-quarters are men.

Higher Education.                  Established in 1922, Makerere University in Kampala was the first college       in East Africa. Its primary aim was to train people for government       employment. In the 1980s, it expanded to include colleges of liberal arts       and medicine serving more than five thousand students. In the early 1990s,       there were about nine thousand students. The Islamic University at Mbale,       financed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, opened in 1988.       This college provides Islamic educational services primarily to       English-speaking students from African countries. In 1989, a second       national university campus opened in Mbarara, with a curriculum designed       to serve rural development needs. Development plans for higher education       rely largely on international and private donors. Most residents value       higher education, perceiving it as an essential aspect of national       development.


Shaking hands is the normal form of greeting. Casual dress is considered       appropriate in the daytime and evening. It is customary to give waiters       and taxi drivers a 10 percent tip. Etiquette is important at family meals.       When a meal is ready, all the members of the household wash their hands       and sit on floor mats. Visitors and neighbors who drop in are expected to       join the family at a meal. Normally a short prayer is said before the       family starts eating. During the meal, children talk only when asked a       question. It is considered impolite to leave the room while others are       eating. Leaning on the left hand or stretching one’s legs at a meal       is a sign of disrespect. When the meal is finished, everyone in turn gives       a compliment to the mother.


Religious Beliefs.                  One-third of the population is Roman Catholic, one-third is Protestant,       and 16 percent is Muslim; 18 percent believe in local religions, including       various millenarian religions. World religions and local religions have       coexisted for more than a century, and many people have established a set       of beliefs about the nature of the universe by combining elements of both       types. There is a proliferation of religious discourses centering on       spirits, spirit possession, and witchcraft.

Religious Practitioners.                  Religious identity has economic and political implications: church       membership has influenced opportunities for education, employment, and       social advancement. Religious practitioners thus are expected to provide a       range of benefits for their followers. Leaders of indigenous religions       reinforce group solidarity by providing elements necessary for societal       survival: remembrance of ancestors, means of settling disputes, and       recognition of individual achievement. Another social function of       religious practitioners is helping people cope with pain, suffering, and       defeat by providing an explanation of their causes. Religious beliefs and       practices serve political aims by bolstering the authority of temporal       rulers and allowing new leaders to mobilize political power and implement       political change.

 Rituals and Holy Places.                  In Bantu-speaking societies, many local religions include a belief in a       creator God. Most local religions involve beliefs in ancestral and other       spirits, and people offer prayers and sacrifices to symbolize respect for       the dead and maintain proper relationships among the living. Mbandwa       mediators act on behalf of other believers, using trance or hypnosis and       offering sacrifice and prayer to beseech the spirit world on behalf of the       living.             Uganda has followers of Christianity, Islam, and African traditional       religions. Ugandan Muslims make pilgrimages to Mecca when they can.       Followers of African religions tend to establish shrines to various local       gods and spirits in a variety of locations.

Death and the Afterlife.                  Death is sometimes interpreted in the idiom of witchcraft. A disease or       other cause of death may not be considered the true cause. At a burial, if       the relatives suspect someone of having caused the deceased       person’s death, a spirit medium may call up the spirit of the       deceased and ask who really killed him or her.

Medicine and Health Care   

Health services deteriorated in the 1970s and 1980s, as a result of       government neglect, violence, and civil war. In the 1990s, measles,       respiratory tract infections, and gastro enteritis caused one-half of all       deaths attributed to illness, and malaria, AIDS, anemia, tetanus, whooping       cough, and respiratory tract infections also claimed many lives. Infant       mortality was often caused by low birth weight, premature birth, or       neonatal tetanus. The entire health care system was served by less than a       thousand doctors in the 1990s. Care facilities included community health       centers, maternity clinics, dispensaries, leprosy centers, and aid posts.       Today there is at least one hospital in each district except the southern       district of Rakai. In the sparsely populated northern districts, people       sometimes travel long distances to receive medical care, and facilities       are inferior to those in the south. Those who live far from or cannot       afford modern health care depend on traditional care. Women are prominent       among traditional healers.

Secular Celebrations 

The major holidays are New Year’s Day, 1 January; Liberation Day,       26 January; International Women’s Day, 8 March; Labor Day, 1 May;       National Heroes Day, 9 June; and Independence Day, 9 October.

The Arts and Humanities 

Support for the Arts.                  Most artists are self-supporting as there is virtually no state support.       Small-scale, local initiatives take place, but it has been                        A farm with terraced fields near Kibale. Coffee, cotton, tea, and             corn are among the most common agriculture exports.                     difficult to establish viable sectors because of the disruptions caused       by long-term political conflict and economic decline.                   Literature.                  The development of literature is at an early stage. It has been held back       by the years of civil war.                   Graphic and Performance Arts.                  Performing arts often are associated with different ethnic groups       throughout the country.

 The State of the Physical and Social Sciences     

The physical and social sciences are generally under-developed as a result       of civil instability and conflict and the development of other priorities       centered on national reconstruction. Makerere University is still in       operation but virtually all expatriate staff, once the backbone of the       teaching staff, have been long gone. Little research is currently       undertaken because of a lack of up-to-date books, journals, or computers.


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